I was planning to buy some film today – Kodak film. Now that I've learned that Kodak may cut up to 25,000 jobs because of the declining film market I may buy several rolls of TMax and Kodachrome.
Many of my friends have been surprised that I, a photographer and a great fan of technology, have not chucked my film cameras and embraced the digital revolution. Indeed, digital photography is very appealing, so appealing that the vast majority of cameras purchased in North America are digital.
Digital cameras give instant results: but will those results be there when you and your grandchildren want to see them? If you ask people what they will take with them if they have to vacate their homes due to fire or floods the first thing they mention is the family photograph album. Photographs and negatives – especially black and white photos and negatives – have lasted for several generations. Some of the first photographs made over 150 years ago can still be viewed in museums and galleries.
We expect that our digital photographs will be around when we want them. We store them on hard drives and on disks: but will our grandchildren be able to access them in the future? How long do disks last?
Not all photographs are archival. Certainly many colour photographs have faded over the years. However, negatives and transparencies can be reprinted and scanned. I scan a lot of my prints and some of my negatives. One can use film and obtain high quality digital images for certain purposes. Film still has characteristics that are different from those of digital photographs. Different, not necessarily better or worse. Films too differ from each other in terms of how they record light.
I have thousands of negatives and Kodachromes which take up a lot of space in my house. However, I'll continue to add to them rather than collect my history and my family's history on my hard drive. If Kodak ceases to manufacture certain types of film there are European companies that will be pleased to serve the market: and there will be a market, although it will be far smaller than it has been.
There will continue to be people who use view cameras, medium format cameras and 35mm rangefinders and SLRs. They won't ignore the potential for digital photography and will probably use it in some circumstances. But they and I will still enjoy the smell of darkroom chemicals and the thrill of seeing an image coming up in the developer.
Film lasts. Let's hope that digital images last too.